Your itinerary wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this public structure to experience and learn about the local history. Whether you feel bored or would love a second visit will depend on its planning, making museum design one of the favorite thesis topics for students of architecture. A museum is a storehouse of aged artifacts that highlight the grandeur of preserved memorabilia from various stages of human evolution. A lot goes into the creation of these public structures to make them the heart and soul of the city. From preservation to environmental concern, there are numerous things to keep in mind while designing a museum.

Here are the 10 Things to remember when designing a Museum:

1. People’s perspective: What are they looking for? 

It is always a good idea to define the public that will be visiting your structure. After studying the demographics and psychographics of the locale and the type of audience the exhibits cater to, you can tailor the museum display to create an enriching experience that ensures maximum learning for your targeted audience. As you plan your museum, you should always put yourself in the visitor’s shoes to understand how the learning will take place and make sure that the design motivates the people to visit.

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State Timber Museum, Australia with designated areas for toddlers ©www.creativespaces.com
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Louvre, Abu Dhabi is a favorite go-to for family outings ©www.arabnews.com

2. Defining the Category 

Will your museum be about a local craft or will it house a historical timeline of airplanes? Would there be paintings or will working models be used? It is important to address these questions and understand the genre of your museum. The properties of the products to be displayed will guide your design. It will help you designate sections and develop an area program so that no display is crowded and all units create an impact on the perceiver.

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Large screens to create an intimate experience for visitors at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights © segd.org
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Walk-in Installation at Museum of Senses, Croatia © www.croatiagems.com

3. Defining a path: Telling a story

Since museums deal with history, it is important to follow a timeline and incorporate it into your design. By following a chronological order, it enables the visitors to walk through the museum, taking information exhibit by exhibit, story by story. It is good to design all sections according to the era so that the perceiver gets a full feel and can absorb the whole story.

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Wisconsin Historical Society Museum with an interactive timeline display © www.wnanews.com
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Machine tool Museum Timeline Display © www.behance.net

4. Layering the Exhibits

Today’s museums are restructured from those of the past. Not all people who come to the museum are looking for in-depth, detailed documentation. Thus, the guiding concept of layering can be used. The first layer focuses the attention on the theme of the exhibit and identifies the period; the second layer introduces a limited amount of information as an overview. In the third layer of design, there is in-depth knowledge that is amplified and detailed. This ensures that the museum visitors can visit at leisure or to grasp the complexities of the subjects.

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Revolutionary storytelling at International Spy Museum, Washington DC © www.dexigner.com
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Hershey Story Museum with Layered Exhibits to focus attention on details of Milton Hershey’s life.© lancasteronline.com

5. Establishing a Connect: Interactive Display

After studying the genre, it is good to decide the scale of interactivity for your museum. Do you want visitors to touch the display unit or do you want to keep your artifacts behind a glass? This is where the breakthrough of technology also helps. You may prohibit touching of exhibits but you can make your design graphical through signs, video screens, or go as far as incorporating augmented reality. Your design should be a responsive and dynamic collection of arts and dramas of life.

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A technological intervention at the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum © www.cooperhewitt.org
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Immersive experiences for visitors by adding virtual elements © catchoom.com

6. Interplay of Light

Light plays an extremely important role in a museum. It may be desired or extremely undesirable and your design will be molded according to it. Some exhibits get deteriorated over time from the sun’s direct exposure. As preservation is the ultimate motive, it is essential to eliminate natural light and have artificial lighting around these displays. In some other cases such as in countries where the climate is extremely cold, natural lighting may be best suited to cut down on HVAC costs.

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Harvard Art Museums, recipient of the LEED Gold award in 2015, balances natural and artificial lighting © www.artratio.co.uk
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Pei’s Pyramid at Louvre with natural lighting in central atrium underneath © www.dw.com

7. Layout

It should be very easy for visitors to navigate inside a museum. It is better to have a central atrium connecting all themed areas so that people can choose to visit parts that capture their intrigue. A museum should be a city of living thoughts. There should be several books to initiate discussions, establish workshops, or just for the visitor to ponder over what he has seen.

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Collaborative Creative process shared with the public at the Fabric Workshop and Museum © phillystamppass.org
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Kogod Courtyard at National Portrait Gallery as a nook for discussions © www.si.edu

8. Nestled in the City: Local Connect

As the Master designer of museums, Renzo Piano said in his interview published in Metropolis Magazine, “… (All buildings) are rooted, but they lift above the ground and allow the ritual of the city life to merge with the ritual of the building life. By lifting the building, the ground floor becomes almost a continuation of the public realm.” Museums need to be designed such that they blend with their surroundings. It should not be a structure that pops up snobbishly on the cityscape. Instead, it should be an embodiment of the city’s textures and ideals.

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Guggenheim Museum at Fifth Avenue © franklloydwright.org
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Harvard Art Museum at night © www.archdaily.com

9. Museums for the Future

Due to the strict preservation policies, museum designs usually ignore energy efficiency but new concepts are focusing on making the designs eco-friendly. Designers are encouraged to practice responsible management of the waste generated during the refurbishing of a historical structure to be converted into a museum. There should be an appropriate and optimal use of materials to cause the least impact on the environment. Ultimately your design should raise public awareness on such issues.

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California Academy of Sciences (USA) has a 10,000-square meter roof covered by native plants that act as a thermal insulator, reducing the building’s energy needs © www.iberdrola.com
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Sustainable Museum Goals © www.iberdrola.com

10. Cater to the Clientele: Access to all  

The museum must welcome all. As a center for learning, the structure should be open to people from all strata of society. Special care should be taken to ensure it is accessible by people in a wheelchair, with a ramp as the preferred method of changing levels. There should be displays that are easily interpreted by braille users, and the design layout must have public facilities and seating spaces seamlessly integrated.

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An Oxford gadget to revolutionize Museum visits for the blind ©www.ox.ac.uk
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Barrier-free at Mercedes Benz Museum ©www.mercedes-benz.com
Radhika Jhamaria
Author

Radhika Jhamaria, an Architecture undergrad at NIT Jaipur, loves to travel and explore the world as a design enthusiast. She believes that one should always follow their heart and she pours hers into literary escapades. You may occasionally find her strumming her beloved guitar.

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